Doctor Who: Depth Perception

Arcs of Triumph?

From a writer’s point of view The Doctor is a hero that unlike many others, is never ‘complete’ to quote the repair droids of the MS Madame Pompadour. As we have seen, even as he faces death his story isn’t done, because his timeline extends through all of time and space in every direction and crosses itself. That provides writers with a lot of scope. Amid all the adventures though, any detail that adds to knowledge of his inner life or pre-Doctor history stands out. As it should. The issue for the writer is how to present it – how to weave it into the monster of the week story and make it pertinent to the season arc as well as revealing of character.

So what is significant about Clara’s role in both revealing aspects of The Doctor and shaping them? We know Clara shaped his unconscious with a story about fear and a toy soldier, and there does seem to be a theme going on about soldiers. We learn The Doctor slept in a barn he later used to attempt to blow up Gallifrey from. We repeatedly learn he lies. Sometimes we learn he lies because he knows someone is listening in (Gus in Mummy in the Orient Express) or to give people hope (Flatline), or to learn something. We know he often doesn’t care about feelings. Except when he does. He is self-loathing and aware of it and smart and arrogant about it. In Flatline, he revealed taking on the persona of The Doctor is not about doing or being good and this series so far is his attempt to define if he is good at all.

Yet he is still a hero. Or: yet he is still a hero?

And somehow Missy and Clara fit into all this.

We learn, as writers to make characters ‘real’ or three-dimensional. Readers (or viewers) are meant to love them, identify with them, or have empathy for the heroes they are drawn to. The Doctor may not like himself, but others love him and see him as real even if they don’t know his name or understand much about him. It is they, with their flaws and mistakes, who add to his dimensions as much as the details of his past do.

POV

Some paintings are meant to be looked at in certain, obvious ways, but turn you head and the picture reveals what was there all the time, but obscured. A new perspective renders this aspect of the picture intelligible. It is apparent in Holbein’s The Ambassadors. As they stand in their furs and luxuries, a great big something at the bottom of the picture disturbs the celebration. At the right angle it is obvious an anamorphic device. A reminder of the futility of their materialism or a surprise for the viewer in the appropriate vantage point?

Similarly, taking your character into a new situation, or against a new kind of enemy or viewing your character from a different perspective should, likewise, reveal more of what was there already. Holbein’s skull is there the entire time, and once you know it is there you look for it. You can’t unsee or unknow its presence, but finding it the first time is…yowsers.

Furthermore, anything new that is revealed about your hero should be congruent with what has gone before. Or at least up to a point.

Yes, they come bearing gifts from foreign parts.

Yes. Trendy Hipster Ambassadors come with gifts from foreign parts.

Doctor Clara and the  Hero Formula

When Clara ‘becomes’ The Doctor in Flatline she breaks down his character into acts. Typical English teacher, she pulls apart his story and identifies his motivations and what she sees as his reasoning. She is doing what all critics do. She decodes his ‘Hero Formula’.  First. Snoop. Ask questions, use tools, get help, identify group and become their leader. As a leader The Doctor then tries to inspire hope, assesses ally or enemy for their abilities and then uses the strengths and weaknesses of those around him – or in this case her. Finally, Doctor Clara uses all her knowledge against her enemy, including their strengths. Doctor Clara is also unique in her modus operandi. Her knowledge of students and Briggsy especially allows her to see him beyond his ‘teen gone bad image’. She uses his skills, which turn the abilities of the 2Ders against them, which in turn, saves The Doctor.  She becomes the Clara Version of The Doctor.

Through a glass darkly: otherness

I am not sure yet that Clara realises The Doctor is not really a person but a role. Even though she is told this repeatedly, as recently in Flatline, when the Doctor delivers his Save the Day speech and demarcates his role. Again.

But to deliver his ‘defining’ role speech, Flatline had to deliver something to combat. This episode is very, very clever. So much of it is about the difficulties in interacting with a completely ‘alien’, kind of alien. And he used the word: monster. Finally it was a kind of ‘baddie’ we didn’t need to feel all conflicted over. It was new, weird, and completely Other. He used the power of the name, to identify it as an enemy and to identify himself as a protector. But while he needs the baddie to find himself, he is still not ‘good’.

 

You put the thingy in the middle and see the wonderous stuff.

You put the thingy in the middle and see the wondrous stuff.

Lines of Sight

The Doctor, from a new point of view, stuck hilariously inside his tiny Tardis, sees how Clara understands him and why she can’t say he is a definitive ‘Good Man’. Nevertheless Clara, and I guess all of us, want him, and her version of him to be ‘good’.  Good not just as a replica of The Ambassadors is a fair reproduction, but, I think morally just and the kind of clever tainted with kindness. In fact we want this Doctor to live up to his vow from Day of the Doctor: Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in. 

We are all just prism-ers here, of our own device

Western entertainment has traditionally depicted the good in white and the bad in black. We know that’s simplistic and racist, or has its basis in fears about The Other. But often stories are allegories, the blackness can be the darkness of night. Now we understand light and we know from Gandalf that white is not white. Refracting white light it breaks into its components, which is all colours – the entire spectrum. White is everything. In story telling logic, then, white/good is always alchemically mixed with a little of everything else. What I’m getting to is no Hero is without that little bit of everything else.

It white is everything, then black, is not something, but the lack of something. Not Freudian Lack (necessarily) but absence where in the nothing something can grow, develop, leech through. It is unknowing. Ok, sounding more Freudian now. These 2D monsters exist in the space where we think there is nothing. They are the skulls in the painting before we see them, in this episode, literally and figuratively. Once we know they are there we can’t unknow. But like the skull in the picture, they too are a mystery.

Critical perspective

Like criticism, perspective is just another way humans invented to understand the world. And the world worked fine without both for quite a while. But they do have their benefits, like making what we see clearer and rendering worlds and that which they contain proportionate to other worlds.

Anyway, whether the criticism is from someone like me outside the story, or from someone inside, like Clara or that other Companion/Doctor, Donna, it is never static. It comes from different places at different times with different motivations. Clara’s assessment of The Doctor is true for her experience at a particular point, but is not the only ‘truth’. Similarly, what I see now is limited because I am limited  in exactly the way The Doctor is not. Time and space and what for most is a linear experience of the progression of events are no barrier to this Hero with 12 Faces.

Unlike The Doctor I am on the slow path, but just like that Girl in the Fireplace every now and again the light breaks through. In those fleeting moments like Reinette, I too have a means to look through time into other worlds: stories.

Thanks to all the tellers of stories who show me other times and places.

This is something sciency about how our eyes can be deceived by light and movement or something.

This is something sciency about how our eyes are deceived but Gandalf and Newton show us white light is a bunch of colours. 

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Notational Interludes

After my post about art I could write about how I’m also a frustrated musician, inspired by my mother, who was the epitome of a folksy mcfolk musician, playing, as she did sporadically, the piano accordion, recorder, xylophone and glockenspiel, mostly by ear. On the other side of my family my knitting Nan focused her powers on the electric organ by her front door as she belted out hymns. However, as my violin teachers and family can attest, there was mainly relief when my music stopped.

All Greek to me.

All Greek to me.

 

I consoled myself with the thought I had really wanted to play the cello, but there wasn’t one, and when there was, another student played it. I never could get the timing right. Although the high school rock band is another story…

I never imagined music as a way of life. For one I thought you had to be able to read music, and I spent two years trying and mostly failing to learn how to read it, having only just mastered reading words. I realised later reading music wasn’t necessary, not for my mother, and not for countless others who got the rhythm and played along.

'The Music of the Poets. A Musician's Birthday Book. 1896.  It's just like Music and Lyrics.

‘The Music of the Poets. A Musician’s Birthday Book. 1896. It’s just like Music and Lyrics.

Music and me parted ways. Sometimes I am sad about this, like when I see live theatre and for a second yearn to be up in front of the footlights, like I was in high school. And then the vision fades and I will return into the west and to remain just me. Or Galadriel, whichever.

This is where writing is good. I can make up stories about anyone and anything. It’s like acting, which is pretending to be anyone, only I’m responsible for the story and I don’t have to dress up or talk to people.

If you like, too, writing has beats, swells and troughs, clear notes and driving bass. Stories have moods and themes and shrillness and depth. Rhythm and emotion. Stories almost have everything that music has except a live audience.

Should I start busking stories? Or asking for cash in exchange for 50 word poems featuring three words of your choice, guvna?

I think, too that whatever mode you practice, you shouldn’t dismiss the other modes. I’m aware it’s a sport to pick on actors in bands, but really, it’s all just human expression. Dickens and Mark Twain performed for audiences, singer song writers deliver narratives and ditto painters and dancers. Behind each is a desire to provide an experience – to communicate. Mostly this communication is one way, unless you’ve had a beer bottle thrown at you in a shifty bar as you sing the blues. Yet it is communication.

All this communication is done for the joy of it, for a living, for the ideas in it, for practice, for fun, for a story, for others, for an idea and for reasons you or I can’t articulate. It seems we’ve always done this, whether it’s 35,000 yo finger flutings on the wall of a cave in South Australia, or an interpretation of a children’s book in Matilda the Musical.

 

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Doctor Who: Strangers on a Train

After  the wrongness of Kill the Moon, Mummy on the Orient Express is back on track (ah, I make me laugh), but a bit odd. It’s like every episode Clara or The Doctor have to work each other out, even though they have all their combined history: for instance, Clara only now realises he lies. It is very much like they are strangers.

Not only that because the train looped and we ended some way back. Clara is now misrepresenting Danny to the Doctor; and the Doctor is either ignorant of this or too relieved she is staying to call her on it. Stuff is still wrong. Nothing has been sorted. Typical of train delaying tactics. Probably.

Design for the first Orient In Space.

Design for the Orient In Space. Made in New New Birmingham, two planets over from New, New York.

I want my mummy

I think we all get that The Doctor is a new version of himself. But writers, he is still himself. He should remember and Clara should reflect on this, because we all go it. Unless this is a writer thing. There have been different writers, and each episode writer is writing a new Doctor, but that is why Steven Moffat or any other series producer is there. To ensure continuity of plot and arcs, but also continuity in character (as far as it can manifest in a story about an alien shape shifting time traveller). So enough with how different The Doctor is, because really, mostly I’m seeing somebody congruent with Tom Baker’s Doctor and the 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors. Mostly. He even had lollies in a cigar case and slightly faulty Psychic Paper. Also Peter Capaldi’s playful ‘young’ vibe, whether he’s dancing around in circles drawing (probably calculations) on the beach, or the instances of humour are as honest as Matt Smith’s world-weary ancient schtick with Amelia/Amy.

Effecting the Voyage of the Damned

I had suspicions this would be a Starship Titanic episode with The Doctor leading plucky/annoying survivors across the wreck of a train in space as they escape a mummy or two, while he auditions Clara replacements. This time the train isn’t about to be ditched for insurance, but rather, its passengers are gathering to solve a problem, or be experimented on. A bit like Big Brother, only entertaining.

Starship Titanic, as pictured IRL.

Starship Titanic, as pictured IRL.

Anyway this is like Voyage of the Damned, but mainly only aesthetically. I often harp on about the writing, because I’m all about the words, but set design, costumes, lighting, even the voice over cast, do a lot to carry stories in Who, especially these days. A particular shout out to the Bubble Wrap monster joke in this episode. Ah the good ole days.

So the v/o was very Titanic, kind of fake cheery, and the officials were useless or weak, again, a bit Titanic, until The Doctor gives ‘em a bit of a rev up in typical fashion.

The lighting was especially good. It was all yellowy gas light train car, then aseptic cold white light in the lab-car, and then an emotively lit outdoor scene in a place that looked like a late afternoon near the 29th New York.

While I’m at it, this season seems to have spent more money on digital effects and it shows. Alien beaches look a little more alien when the light is a different colour. Pretending every world or place has the kind of sunshine or atmosphere of a Welsh gravel pit is a little repetitive, but changing the colour, inserting a digital backdrop and making actors look like they are standing under an alien sun is much better. In addition, phasing mummies look more believable if they phase while being miniaturised and inserted in a Dalek is suddenly more convincing, even if the memory bank includes a bunch of clear plastic hoses. Again, I have affection for those kind of effects,  as well as the shiny, shiny new sort.

The only thing is Astrid Peth was far more useful as an assistant than Clara in these respective episodes. Astrid saves The Doctor, Clara delivers him the next potential victim.

Risk and Reward

The Doctor speech at the end is important. He explains his modus operandi and how some situations require a decision must be made and sometimes no decision is a good one, which is a speech that would’ve been useful on the moon. Again, both their comments on addiction were interesting too.

I was going to be critical of how quickly the mystery was wound up, but he did say 66 seconds. Everything up until that point was so he could work out who is targeted so he could become the next victim and then save his own life in a little more than a minute. So he sacrificed his reputation by lying or pretending to lie, to put himself in danger.

But they weren’t the real sacrifices. Nup. The Doctor, in explaining the denouement, omits an explanation of their intercom conversation, where she doesn’t shut up and he is talking to her and listening to warnings. He never tells her all that results in the deaths of the catering staff. Their conversation killed them and The Doctor doesn’t tell her. He takes the burden of that on.

Alone.

Again, they are lying to each other and I can’t see anything good coming of it.

Soldiers and Enemies

As typical under Steven Moffat, the deadly menace in the Legend of the Foretold is more akin to a victim and has its own mythology and rhyme, which all combine very effectively. About 100% more eerie and dangerous than the Blitzer thing in The Caretaker. It was truly well done, and a welcome change in aesthetic from the ‘mind eating’ monsters of Time Heist and the jailed Minotaur of The God Complex. Interesting too that it was a soldier. I’m sensing a theme that needs to be explored further, regarding Danny, toy soldiers and veterans. I mean Amy’s imagination as read by aliens, literally remakes Rory into a plastic fake, but real Roman legionary. Clara is asked to marry the Emperor of a neo-Roman space empire, and is then with Danny, former soldier, who she and The Doctor encouraged to be a soldier. Hmmm.

Ramses II: successful soldier, famed Pharaoh and now, mummy.

Ramses II: successful soldier, famed Pharaoh and now, mummy.

However, to get back to the Foretold. As gruesome as the Legend is, it’s a smokescreen of an unknown pulling the strings for some ulterior purpose. It turns out Gus is somebody The Doctor has been putting off encountering. Is Gus linked to Missy? Or a different kind of enemy? A call back to someone we are familiar with, like The Master, or someone new? Or just a name embedded now for future series, a bit like how River Song is introduced way before her significance is revealed.

Who knows?

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Doctor Who: Goddesses, Captains & Parables

In space no one hears the countdown

If Earth is Mostly Harmless, then Space is Mainly Lethal. Lack of air. Un-earth-like physics. People on the edge. In Doctor Who, space is dangerous because of ‘grey area’ moral dilemmas and countdowns. Seriously, they had an episode called 42 with a living Sun and 42 minutes until a ship crashes into to it. In Kill the Moon, the countdown is on for a birth/death.

Physics is the motivation to go to the Moon because its gravity is Earth-normal. This saves a bunch of money for special effects. That’s a couple of writer’s making the BBC very happy. I liked the conceit, it was clever on both levels. As this link explains, all the other science that was um, not.

The telescope

Kill the Moon is not my favourite episode.

I’m not a fan of telescoping. It kills tension even as it raises expectation. It does so in the book of The Hobbit, where the narrator intervenes to tell everyone everything will be ok even before they enter Mirkwood. In doing this, Tolkien very nearly breaks the spell. In Doctor Who, it’s more like talking loudly and slowly so people can understand. It’s patronising and unnecessary. Which is me being Clara yelling at The Doctor I guess.

So the other week set up Danny as the moral support for Clara for situations that would test her boundaries. Voila those boundaries are tested. And then we have Clara’s rants. The set up and how it played out was unsubtle, clunky and negative. Which is a bit like The Doctor himself  of late.

Telescoping: fun in science, boring in narrative.

Telescoping: fun in science, boring in narrative.

The positive upside is that Danny’s role is clearer. He is to Clara what The Doctor could have been. Not in terms of a romantic relationship (necessarily) but in terms of an understanding confidante that challenges and accepts others, and transforms them for the better.

Baby Moon

Kill the Moon sees Clara as Madge in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. This time Clara saves the Baby Moon, just as Madge saves the Light Trees. With the viewers being told both times: Women Strong Bring Life Save Babies.

Clara saved the Moon Squid like Amy saved the Star Whale. Or something.

Clara saves the Moon Squid like Amy saves the Star Whale. Or something.

This episode outlines how a childless (career) woman needs the input of a ‘mothering’ carer/teacher/future parent younger woman to stop her from killing a baby. This I have a lot problems with. I believe people without children can have empathy for, be attached to, and generally have regard for life, human and otherwise.  So I’m gonna say this: a woman who doesn’t have kids doesn’t equal BABY HATER.

So there’s that.

If the other episode saw The Doctor as a protective father, Kill the Moon see’s this father kick the daughter out or rather abandon her to her elder non-mother mother. And the daughter is promptly put in a position of deciding to save a baby or abort it. Conclusion: Women go off the rails fast without the super smart almost immortal menfolk right?

Sigh.

The Doctor’s role is the same as in the Narnia-lite episode. The Doctor disqualifies himself for action on similar grounds. Last time it was that males are weak, Lucy was strong and Madge strongest of all. With the Baby Moon – The Doctor denies paternity, in a very paternal and condescending manner. He leaves the women, which he is at pains to point out, to make the decision. Because baby.

Deadbeat Dad? Except he doesn’t really leave them. As soon as Clara makes a decision he’s there with his approval and comments about training wheels coming off. Yay! he says patting Clara on the head, you Chose Life in this abortion parable.

Thing is he would have been there had they detonated the bombs, to deliver a stern dad lecture.

I guess this episode was a recall to Amy saving the Star Whale. But Amy based her actions on her observations. Clara just went with her femme-gut. Or something. So at the end The Doctor gets a hug from Amy and a rant from Clara. Same but different.

So much no

Here’s the problem with making female centric story about babies. Or baby stories so very didactic and female centric. It says: only babies make women important. And Only wanting or having babies make women care. And babies are only women’s business. A better female centric story, if it needed to say anything, would send the message that women are important in a range of ways, some related to babies, and others not, and are no more important and no less important than men. Or aliens.

My Captain, My Captain

This is a Woman in Space episode. Instead of Adelaide Brooke in Water of Mars, it is Captain Lundvik, who also reminds me too of the Captain at the Hedgewick’s World of Wonders in Nightmare in Silver. Adelaide, the unnamed Captain at Hedgewick’s and Lundvik, have a strong streak of duty and self-sacrifice. They are leaders looking for solutions to big problems. And fair enough too. However their solutions do involve death. Brooke kills herself to restore her descendent’s timeline. Captain at Hedgewick is killed attempting to explode a planet in an act of personal redemption, while Lundvik is leading a suicide mission to explode the Moon to save the Earth.

Is Doctor Who saying all female leaders are on a death wish kick? Or that women as leaders must (almost) always die? I hope not. Yet there is merit in presenting women capable of such decisions. Especially when each character has strengths and frailties and motivations. Adelaide Brooke was particularly convincing and complex.

And I’m forgetting the captain of the freighter in 42, too. Another woman sacrificing herself to save others. Admittedly from a problem she caused in the first place. But still.

New Moon Goddesses

This episode of Doctor Who is the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Courtney is Persephone, Clara is Demeter and Captain Lundvik is Hecate. The myth describes how Persephone is kidnapped by the Lord of the Underworld and is where she doesn’t want to be. Demeter goes looking for her daughter, is generally upset, and the world is ruined by it. Hecate, the old crone, is the only one to even bother to help her. Demeter finds Persephone, but the Lord of the Underworld has tricked her into eating a pomegranate seed so she can’t leave. Zeus arbitrates and Demeter wins back Persephone back for part of the year, and the Underworld gets her for the other part. As a myth it explains seasons, the stages of the moon and ritualises the fructification of the earth and the stages of a woman’s life – maiden, wife, crone.

It is important that Hecate is Goddess of the moon, of crossroads, an old woman, who is both scary but helpful. Demeter is the mother, more specifically, she is a mourning mother searching for her daughter. While she is mourning the world goes barren. Persephone meanwhile enters the realm of Death. If you like, The Doctor is this god. Lonely, powerful, exiled from the other gods and prone to ‘picking up strays’ and often the bringer of bad news.

Since The Doctor is both light and dark, he is also, in his paternal role, Zeus. Just as in the myth Zeus buggers off, as Zeus is wont to do so The Doctor leaves it up to the The Three Ages of Women to either kill the baby or bring it to a proper birth. However, as in the myth Zeus returns to arbitrate or bestow his blessing on the final decision, which means it all works out, sort of. The Baby Moon is saved. Persephone is restored, sort of – Courtney returns to school. Demeter returns to Danny and Hecate is appeased.

In both stories the earth is damaged and people look to the Moon to help. In both stories fixing the problem revivifies the world while recognising that life is circular. There are seasons, life and birth and death. While both stories affirm the importance of women, the cause of the quest and its resolution are down to important men. Some say this indicates changes in ancient Greek society to a patriarchal society or the relegation of one order of gods to another. Or both.  It does mean here The Doctor has oversight. He (and the TARDIS) decide the arena, even if he doesn’t fight. In the end he still stands in judgement.

This is all very well and good, if you want to read Goddess symbolism into this. But it doesn’t mitigate the other points I’ve made.

Courtney, Clara and Captain Ludvink downloading some rad music.

Courtney, Clara and Captain Lundvik downloading some rad tunes.

Life on Mars (and Pompeii)

The Doctor’s speeches about ‘grey areas’ in time were interesting. And his riff on why he doesn’t go kill Hitler was important. He addresses directly why events unfold as they do. His argument is that they must. They are inflection points. They are events in time that change the shape of what comes after. Just as in calculus they are the points which convex becomes concave.

However, when you put another person in a place to make a decision, the very least they should have is all the information they need to make an informed one. The Doctor had most of the information. He failed not only to intervene, but to give Clara the information she needed. He demanded she take responsibility, with Lundvik and Courtney, but didn’t give them the tools they needed. Clara, in offshoring her decision to the world was clever, even if it didn’t absolve her of responsibility. And she can’t imagine individuals decided with their lights, rather than governments turning off grids?

Clara’s situation is contrasted with that of Donna in Pompeii. Donna and The Doctor work together and understand what their decision means, for themselves and for the city. The Doctor attempts to not make a decision, while Donna tempers The Doctor’s understanding with her demand for him to consider both saving someone and alternate futures.  Their mutual actions and their shared suffering and responsibility reflects their mature friendship. Their hurt was made meaningful and it worked. On Mars, without Donna, The Doctor is pushed into attempting something he shouldn’t and it drives him mad. The decisions he makes and their results also drive him away from confronting his own possible death.

Volcano Day: Clara Explodes

Volcano Day: Clara Explodes

The Moon and You

On the moon, The Doctor is not mad and Clara isn’t Donna.

Despite everything she experienced and sacrificed The Doctor still pushes Clara away. She is no longer ‘his Clara’ of Matt Smith’s iteration, but more like a subordinate, a caring acolyte who goes along and manages to do things by knowing the words. They can’t read each other, and when they try they are so bad at it they mutually hurt each other with the revelations of their secrets and ill-timed anger.

While The Doctor softens Donna’s abrasiveness, she uses it to good effect to berate his tendency towards supercilious judgement. Donna speaks truth to power, loudly and often. Clara hasn’t got that. The Doctor and Clara are not buddies. The Doctor now comes off as grumpy and condescending grandparent who is hurt too easily by Clara. On the other hand Clara is more complicated than Donna and is establishing herself as a peer, an adult, with duties and expectations and The Doctor lets some of these down, mostly with his attitude.

While The Doctor for all his shouty grumpiness, still cares, his EQ has either dropped by several standard deviations or something else is going on.

Basically it was a bum note to end on, after their triumph and survival.

Regeneration Inflection Points

I think regeneration is a similar kind of inflection point. The line (person) is still the person, The Doctor is the Doctor, but this is the point along his axis that his shape, physically and metaphorically, changes. Regeneration could go either way, falling or rising. In Kill the Moon, it is clearer that The Doctor’s trajectory is different to Clara’s, even though they both existed before and after the inflection.

The writers demonstrate this change through references to his appearance and in his behaviour. Formerly he was youthful, and hugged and pretended to be a boyfriend, now he is older, actively resists hugs and acts like a parent or grandparent. They are, if you like, moving in different directions. Clara’s trajectory is about using her voice, her role, and realising her limits and defining herself. The Doctor is expanding, aging (well yes) and, in his own awkward way, demanding Clara go beyond her limits.

Sometimes it works. In Kill the Moon it didn’t. The Doctor doesn’t deserve not to get Clara and Clara doesn’t deserve to be treated like that. She has known too many of his selves and shaped his identity for it to end badly.

Timey Whimey Inflection Points

Timey Whimey Inflection Points

Knowing the Other

This Doctor is too ham-fisted, his ability to both detect and communicate nuance regarding motives portrays him as either clumsily naive or knowingly and condescending selfish. It’s alright to play up The Doctor’s ‘otherness’. He really is meant to be an alien. But it is not always ok for him to not understand or refuse to respect (even a little) how humans work. It’s been 50 years. Surely even he could’ve have retained something? It’s alright knowing that humans only have one heart and die after only a few years, however, it is even better to attempt to express (more often than recently) a lil empathy with the beings you choose to hang out with. He could read Amy and Rory, he cried about Rose, he tried and often failed to ‘get’ River. What has happened to his EQ?

Courtney-ing disaster

The Doctor can be rude and demanding but he’s rarely told anyone they’re unimportant. This is a complete turn around from everything else that indicated that he’d never encountered anyone who didn’t matter. I was under the impression that his opinions about humans were a bit exploded when his companion-less mission to Mars went pear-shaped up in his face. Not even his off-hand comment about Courtney becoming President citing the Blinovitch Limitation Effect undoes his earlier treatment of her.

Clara, in using Adelaide Brooke’s term ‘little people’ should ring some alarm bells. The Doctor is heading for a fall. If he doesn’t improve his EQ, badness will probably ensue.

 

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Doctor Who and Childish Things

“This hobble of being alive is rather serious, don’t you think so?”
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

This post is in response to Helen Razer’s article in Crikey, which if I read it right, lamented too many adults – including critics – take too much from TV and books for children and warns of the dangers of attributing meaning to everything. Here is an excerpt:

Dr Who is a reasonable thing but it is not a Complex Text. Of course, children cannot really be blamed for our grown-up intoxication by their lolly-water. We have no one to charge but ourselves for the embrace not only of items intended for consumption by children but for our demand for childish techniques in ‘adult’ entertainment.

I don’t have the vocabulary for a full throw down against Razer. Furthermore, I agree with her warning against the infantilisation of culture and critique, as well as her warning on the quality of what we consume. But there are big dollops of but in there. As others argue, her stance on the value we see in some cultural productions has flaws.

Once upon a time

The notion of entertainment for children is a construct of 18th European century thinking. Once upon a time, entertainment was meant for everyone – or was made available along class and gender divisions rather than categorised by age or maturity. This western world is now divided up: babies, kids, tweens, teens, young adults, young people. Someone else decides who is meant to get what in a dis-empowering way. These groups mainly exist so businesses can market and sell to them, and so governments can support, ignore, identify, penalise or otherwise treat groups as they see fit. As Alison Croggon argued this division of literature (or film or television) is seldom related to the intent of the author or the text.

Also, just because a story is about kids, or features kids as main characters, doesn’t mean it is for kids, or all kids, eg: Empire of the Sun, Leon: The Professional and Taxi Driver are three random examples.

Doctor Who and Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Razer specifically mentions Doctor Who. The argument can be made that it is a television program created for families and never ‘just’ kids. I understand too, how sometimes we see complexity where it doesn’t exist, because people are problem makers, yet with this program I disagree. Doctor Who is complex. It is not only a text, and nor does it posses the luxuriant language of say Tess of the D’Urbervilles, yet I am not alone in reading meaning and complexity in both. Furthermore, I don’t think I am infantalised for this or endangering the world.

Doctor Who, which is written and created by adults, is worthy of analysis by adults, as is most Art. In addition, there’s little particularly childish in Doctor Who. Variously it deals with exile and genocide, war and refugees, class struggles, technology, medicalisation, superstition, fascism, autonomy and freedom, political structures of every kind, race, time and death. Sometimes even bubble wrap is deployed to explore notions of Otherness, but why not? Are these themes somehow not as worthy as those depicted in Tess of the D’Urbervilles?

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”
“Yes.”
“All like ours?”
“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound – a few blighted.”
“Which do we live on – a splendid one or a blighted one?”
“A blighted one.”
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

 Tess is a book which deals with young people and their troubled lives as much as it deals with industrialisation, class, wealth and religion, morality and sacrifice. It is an important novel beautifully written. Doctor Who certainly can’t compete with Hardy’s ethereal evocation of landscape and nature. But I’m not asking Steven Moffat or any of the other writers and the directors to try. However, it doesn’t mean I can’t be as touched or moved or entertained by a family television program as much as I am astonished by Hardy’s prose. They both work differently.

Thomas Hardy. Author, not Bane from Batman. Looks a bit like a Time Lord though

Thomas Hardy. Author, not Bane from Batman. Looks a bit  Gallifreyan though

So, Who is not childish, except for when the characters are. Or it is childish if we accept that all SF is a kind of dreaming about the future, (and the past). From that idea, the argument can be made that all creative efforts are childish, including those by the rightly esteemed Thomas Hardy.

Bread and Circuses

“You, and those like you, take your fill of pleasure on earth by making the life of such as me bitter and black with sorrow; and then it is a fine thing, when you have had enough of that, to think of securing your pleasure in heaven by becoming converted!”
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

I wonder about class. People have always had their bread and circuses, while the ruling elite had their private chiaroscuro murals and oil paintings. If the Academy is to take things for children seriously because the certain people enjoy them, is that the elite going low brow? Or, are the SF bread and circuses being elevated in their importance?  Or is it neither because works by adults can be critiqued no matter their intended audience?

Art vs Democracy

I don’t mean all things adults create are equal. Like Helen Razer, I believe the idea that Everything is Awesome shouldn’t apply to cultural production.  Art is not democratic and there is a place for experts to sort wheat from chaff. Yet as many note, technology has enabled the democratisation of production (given that access to technology is a privilege). Almost any person who writes something can have it spread far and wide. Even me. Yet online, same as in the rest of the world, often what is popular is not what is good.

Mostly harmless

Helen Razer: But what is not okay is the shit this worship of the idea of childhood is producing for adult consumption.

Although it’s like shaking a fist at the wind, like Razer, I rail at the influence of the average in the world. Then I remember the world is mostly average. For every startlingly moving tome on the transitory meaning of existence in novel form, there are not Fifty Shades of Grey, but tens of thousands.

Unlike Helen Razer though, I don’t necessarily sheet this all back to writing for children or the infantilisation of culture. There have always been readers of the average. Penny dreadfuls had a market and their (post post) modern equivalent do now.

“…I feel I don’t want to know anything more about [history] than I know already. [...] Because what’s the use of learning that I am one of a long row only-finding out that there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only act her part; making me sad, that’s all.”
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Culture Police Academy

The question of whether those undertaking critical engagement should poke the popular with sharpened Aristotelian analogies is a different matter. Perhaps it is a Feminist and post-colonial issue, since the Academy has historically dictated whose writing is worthy and the Academy has historically been full of old, white men with selection bias issues. Even though, as Dale Spender was the first to point out, women invented the novel.

However, I doubt academic skills will be weakened for tackling YA or fantasy, good or bad. I believe there is intellectual space to undertake criticism, defend against infantilisation, and read Jung or Nietzsche into BBC family television programs.

YOLO Baby

“Do you know that I have undergone three quarters of this labour entirely for the sake of the fourth quarter?” Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Is our culture, obsessed as it is with self and self-expression, one giant Disneyland, because YOLO? If it is, I don’t necessarily blame youth directed literature or family television.

I apprehend the dangers of a babied society. When complex political issues are reduced to slogans so politicians can attempt to remain ‘on message’ even when questioned by Leigh Sales or the occasional scripted US comedian, means we are in danger. Such slogans, being the intellectual equivalent of I Can Has Cheezeburger without the whimsy, hide the fact our freedoms and rights are being eroded and many don’t care or know.

This infantalisation could endanger our capacity to undertake critical analysis. It may degrade abilities in detecting nuance as we are confronted by bland-washed corporate ‘messaging’. It reduces our readiness to question what we see in the media. It could mean we are powerless to do anything about all of this, blunted and stultified as we are under so much that is unworthy of our attention. Or this has already happened and Helen Razer is a dose of medicine that shocks sick systems?

But as far as I can tell, there are still outposts of seriousness left to combat the corrupting influences of the mediocre, as well as corrupt adults, just as there are outposts of excellence in the arts. For every Twilight there are writers of books of genius, power and magic that provide transformative and transcendent experiences, for young and old alike.

In the end, adults paying critical attention to programs like Doctor Who are not the enemy. Some of them are perhaps, like me, looking for reassurance that individuals – no matter how young or old, erudite or lowbrow – still matter. And for that we could do worse than watch this program.

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Art/less Disadvantage

My mother was an artist: lively pen and ink portraits, wry and whimsical cartoons and sculpture in clay and wood. She held exhibitions and sold her pieces. Her wake featured some of her best works. My grandmother produced remarkable charcoal landscapes and haunting portraits too. My aunt, I believe, had talent with water colours.

Experiments in water colours. Sometime last century.

3D experiments in water colours. Sometime last century.

The boxes of art supplies lurk in the garage. Inherited canvasses and oil painted spattered boards stored alongside everything I bought: pencils, and paints and ring-bound sketch books and hard cover ones. Their thick, rough, white pages hold me in their thrall. Mostly they are blank.

Water colour doesn't make up for the fact I can't draw very well.

Water colours: they don’t make up for the fact I never mastered drawing properly.

While I don’t miss the lack of air conditioning, I do long for the summers sitting in the tiny lounge of my Nan’s famed Hollyhock Cottage that artists still like to sit in front of. Inside away from the sun, I painted imaginary landscapes opposite the dead 19th century grate while Nan knitted as she watched the monotonous back and forth of the Australian Open tennis, punctuated only by the intermittent profanity offered by John McEnroe.

A break? Please enjoy this Italian video featuring the artless but dexterous ability of Mr McEnroe’s performance against my favourite tennis player Henri Leconte. Everyone else in school liked Stefan Edberg. I preferred this French guy.

Anyway. The action is not about tennis.

Slightly more recently, I miss those rowdy nights on campus, painting psychedelic abstract pages one after the other, some for me, some for friends. I thought it’d keep thinking at bay. It didn’t work. It was an unforced error to imagine art works like that – at least for everyone.

Some-when between then and now even that much drifted away on the ebb and flow of every day decisions and unexplored dreams. Art didn’t follow through. The water colours dried, cracked and crumbled in their brittle plastic pallets. I know fault lies entirely in my court.

Today, as my new charcoal pencils break into powdery bits as I sharpen them, I wonder did art leave me or did I leave art?

Was it a passing shot? Can it be a let?

The deciding point? Perhaps I can reset the baseline or break back, or find the centre mark, or sweet spot or reach for another tennis analogy to complete whatever I’m trying to say.

Perhaps there’s time to unlearn what Terry Pratchett derided as the “limits of the possible.”

I’ve not yet mastered my genes.

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Doctor Who: the boy friend code

Steven Moffat has gone on about how The Caretaker is a return to the ideas of The Lodger, because The Doctor. Whatevs. This episode had more likenesses with Vampires of Venice, Amy’s Choice, The Big Bang and A Good Man Goes to War with Amy and Rory and with Rose and Mickey with Rose, Father’s Day and The Age of Steel. Because Danny. We also know this episode is about relationships because The Doctor mentions River.

Whaddya mean it was an alien living with us?

Whaddya mean it was an alien living with us?

The new Rory

Danny Pink is the new Rory. He comes complete with recent military service, only with, I assume, the British Defence Force rather than as a Legionary in Provincia Britannia. Like Rory, he is a quick study in motive and personality, seeing in The Doctor the kind of military leaders he served under. Those he notes, were the men who lit the fire he rescued people from. He, like Rory, sees how people are inspired to be and do more because of The Doctor. He also, like Rory, sees the danger this poses. However, unlike Rory it is not because of his association with The Doctor or because he existed 2000 years as plastic, but because he has lived that kind of life before, as a soldier.

RORY WILLIAMS: You know what it’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make       people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they         don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to       themselves when you’re around.

It’s partly due to the pace of the story telling and the age at when Danny is introduced. He is more confident about himself and about Clara, more mature and upfront in his expectations (like for honesty) than Rory – at least at the start. Danny in The Caretaker is a nice contrast to earlier episodes when Clara and Danny suffer through their first tentative conversations.

Awkward conversations over, time for action.

Awkward conversations over, time for action.

Danny not Mickey

Danny is a little reminiscent of Mickey Smith, but without the fear and the need to overcome the belief he is Mickey the Idiot, because Danny knows already that he is not useless. Mickey only learned that during his story arc. However, like Mickey, Danny sees the potential for hurt as Clara is pulled between the two lives she leads.  He too risks being abandoned because he is unable to compete with The Doctor and the entire universe. But I suspect that won’t be the case.

Where are the parents? 

We see how Danny (as Rupert) is again a parent-less child, like Mickey, and can surmise how this drives his desire to do good: serve in the armed forces to dig wells, to teach. We know that Clara has seen him at his most vulnerable and lonely in an entirely different way to how Rose grew up with and took Mickey for granted.

The invisibility watch may indicate Danny isn’t going on every trip. Perhaps he will inform Clara’s actions and choices with The Doctor from afar – in invisible ways. Perhaps he will centre her, or even ground her, at school, in the day to day-ness of life. Perhaps other things entirely are in store because he is not without useful skills. Those coupled with his antagonism towards The Doctor could make interesting journeys.

It seems too Danny is the man of action and this is balanced with Clara’s super power of finding the right words. Maybe together it’ll work.

She cares so we have to

The title also is a double take. We are told this explicitly by Danny he wants to take care of Clara. We know too that Clara is the carer for The Doctor, and Danny sees how The Doctor cares for Clara. If she can’t keep her lives separate, she must be honest, with Danny, but also with The Doctor, because both can be hurt.

Speaking about caring. I wonder about friendships. Can any companion really have friends that are not in the know? Because people usually have at least one confidant. Does Clara have a friend? In fact does any companion?

So the Boy friend Role, or the Companion to the Companion role, is about adding a further perspective to how The Doctor and his life should be viewed. Where companions see fun and adventure, the Boy friend sees the danger and questions how it fits with the rest of their lives and they must point this out to The Doctor and us. This occurs again, because the set up of the entire program can be seen as the tension between the universe and Earth. The Doctor and the world, or if you like, fantasy and life. The companions have a doctor, but their boyfriends provide a dose of reality.

The challenge for the writer is to make each new character different from previous characters in similar situations. Man meets alien, must cope with the news and the truth of the life of his girlfriend, deal with inexplicable new dangers and generally run around and either fail entirely (like in Dalek in 2005) or be completely involved, like Rory, or won over eventually, like Mickey. Maybe there is a different way for Danny. The differences will be found in writing the personality and in how the actor plays it.

MacGuffin

Forget entirely the ready-made CBBC robot toy MacGuffin. It wasn’t the point. The point was it gave an opportunity for Danny, Champion of the World, to prove his worth, not to The Doctor or to Clara, but to us.

And it did one other thing. It provided another lead to the long-term arc. Missy, it was intimated, is god. If there is an afterlife and it turns out to be bunches of aseptic white offices, I’m gonna want my money back. So no not sure where this is, but it’ll be interesting to find out.

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